Nature and Biodiversity

5 videos that reveal the human impact on Earth

Image: REUTERS/NASA/Handout

José Santiago
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Future of the Environment

NASA is synonymous with space exploration, bringing to Earth awe-inspiring images of our solar system and the universe.

Recently, NASA started looking back home by creating the Landsat program, a series of satellites that continuously circle our planet, keeping an eye on how the human species is altering the Earth's surface.

Using Google Earth Engine, Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent from Carnegie Mellon University put together five sobering time-lapse videos showing the drastic changes our planet has gone through in a relatively short period of time.

The climate crisis

The effects of climate change are readily seen across the globe, from glacial retreat to the destruction of pine forests in Colorado, in part because of warmer temperatures that allow beetles to move to higher altitudes.


The race for resources

From open-pit coal mining to mountain-top removal and fracking, satellite time-lapse imagery shows how many resources we're extracting around the globe:


The future of forests

A combination of Landsat time-lapse images and graphic overlays demonstrates changes in forest use, deforestation and replanting across the globe. By overlaying the geographic locations of national parks, we can see the effectiveness of preservation efforts over time:


Asia’s industrialization

Time-lapse satellite images from NASA’s Landsat program and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) collect regular photographic evidence of urban change and the expansion of industrial operations across Asia:



From the dramatic shrinking of Lake Urmia in Iran to the expansion of irrigated agriculture in Saudi Arabia, Landsat time-lapse images show us how human activity has affected our most important natural resource - water:


This data is courtesy of Berkeley Earth, Carnegie Mellon University, Google Earth Engine, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Maryland and USGS.

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